I wasn't sure if the delay of CHILDREN OF MEN from September 2006 to a limited-Xmas/wide January 2007 release was a good thing or not. While release delays are usually a death knell, that kind of push probably meant that the studio behind the film (in this case Universal) felt that the film had a shot at garnering some Academy Award nods. Another thing that really put me on edge about the film was its director, Alfonso Cuaron. I'm one of the few people that wasn't impressed with Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and who felt that HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN was a horrible misstep in an otherwise well-played franchise. And, finally, to hear that a handful of writers took a hack at the screenplay didn't inspire much confidence either. Too many cooks, you know.
Despite of my trepidation, I found CHILDREN OF MEN to be a fairly
effective dystopian tale of the near future. The film stars a
haggard Clive Owen as Theo Faron, a cog in the bureaucrat wheel of
a United Kingdom that's tearing itself apart in the wake of a
global infertility crisis. Over seventeen years have passed since
a woman has successfully conceived a child. The world is in
shambles as a reaction to the futility of a future without progeny
and England portrays itself as the last bastion of civilization.
Yet, not all is hunky-dory in old Blighty.
Faron fills the void once held the child he lost years before with
alcohol. His ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), fills it with
social activism. She's the leader of the Fishes, a radical group
who spout all-too-familiar rhetoric about "the revolution." They
chomp at the bit at Britain's ineffectual response to the global
crisis and the government's pitiless program of immigrant
deportation. But, like most holier-than-thou activists, there's
little agreement as to what they can do to about their displeasure
coupled with ruthless infighting amongst the group.
Julian goes to Faron with an offer of five thousand pounds in
exchange for his help getting official papers for an illegal
immigrant (called "Fugees" in the film's parlance) from his
cousin, Nigel (Danny Huston), a government bigwig. The immigrant
needing help, Kee (a strong performance from Claire-Hope Ashitey)
might be the "key" to the future.
Nigel gets short shrift in CHILDREN OF MEN. In P. D. James's
original novel, Nigel is his cousin's antagonist. He desperately
seeks out the "Kee character" (a combination of the film's Julian
and Kee) in order to save his flagging political career. This
shift from book to film is typical of the smart decisions made in
the adaptation of James's work. The story moves with much more
purpose and direction on screen than it did on paper with the only
possible item lacking being the upper-crust's disillusioned
reaction to the infertility crisis with the creepy baby doll
birthday parties and anthropomorphized pets.
Rather than being a fantastical post-apocalyptic tale, CHILDREN OF
MEN portrays what could happen with just a nudge from any kind of
crisis. The seeds have already been planted. Bombs already go off in streets. Immigrants are already openly despised. Islam is equated with abhorrent radicalism. Idealists already are short-sighted. One of the other clever ideas is to not pin down the exact cause of the infertility. No one in the movie knows. It could be the plumes of smoke and pollution that fill the air, it could be gamma rays, it could be the wrath of some unnamed diety, it could be a food-borne disease, or it could be one of any number of other factors.
The soundtrack to CHILDREN OF MEN is particularly interesting. It's highly British and references the "glory days" of the '60s music scene all the way up to more modern fare. That the flying pig from Pink Floyd's Animals is so prominently featured was not my first tip-off that the music in this film tells a story on a different narrative plane. I feel that this topic alone could be a pretty weighty paper for a Sophomore film student somewhere.
CHILDREN OF MEN works best during its long, harrowing single take handheld shots. Cuaron's mix of quasi-documentary style with melodrama makes for interesting viewing and the film's themes make for some good food for thought.